Bowerbank, James Scott (DNB00)

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BOWERBANK, JAMES SCOTT (1797–1877), geologist, was born in Bishopsgate, London, in 1797. We have no reliable information as to his early education; but he certainly exhibited in his youth a strong attachment to natural history, and in his boyhood he was especially fond of collecting plants, and of studying books on botany. Bowerbank was most happily placed in this world; as the son of a highly respectable city merchant and a distiller he enjoyed all that wealth could afford him. He succeeded with his brother, on the death of his father, to the well-established distillery of Bowerbank & Co., in which firm he remained an active partner until 1847. His energy and industry secured for him amongst the most intelligent of his city friends the character of a careful and attentive man of business. He, however, found sufficient leisure to pursue his scientific studies, and early in life he obtained much exact knowledge, as is proved by his having published papers on the Insecta and their anatomy at an age which is generally considered as immature. Bowerbank also, in the years 1822-3-4, lectured on botany, and in 1831 we find him conducting a class on human osteology, and studying the works of Haller, Alexander Monro, and other osteologists. When of age he joined the Mathematical Society of Spitalfields, and remained a member until its incorporation with the Astronomical Society in 1845. In 1836, Bowerbank, associating himself with several geological friends, originated 'The London Clay Club,' the members of which devoted themselves to the task of examining the fossils of this tertiary formation, and making a complete list of the species found in it. Bowerbank's anatomical studies, which were pursued with considerable attention, prepared his mind by a stern discipline for the study of the sponges, to which he subsequently devoted himself for many years. At the same time he occupied his leisure by examining the moss agates, and the minute structure of shells and corals.

In 1840 he published a volume on the 'Fossil Fruits of the London Clay,' which remains a standard work ; indeed, the only one in which these very interesting remains are thoroughly described and accurately figured. In 1842 Bowerbank was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1847, after the reading of a paper by Professor Prestwich at the rooms of the Geological Society, Bowerbank invited the leading geologists to meet him in the tearoom. He then proposed the establishment of a society for the publication of undescribed British fossils. He was supported in this by Buckland, De la Beche, Fitton, and others, and thus was founded the Palæontographical Society. From 1844 to 1864 Bowerbank was in the habit of receiving at his residence, once a week, professed geologists and young amateurs who showed a real fondness for this science, which was still struggling against the prejudices which dogmatic teaching had fostered. Every young and earnest geologist found in him a sincere friend and always a willing instructor. Bowerbank's classification of the spongidæ, his observations on their spiculate elements, and his papers on the vital powers of the sponges, remain splendid examples of unwearying industry and careful observation. On his retirement from the active labours of life, his fervent desire was to finish his great work on the sponges, and unremittingly he gave all the energies of his well-trained mind to this object, until the failure of brain-power compelled intervals of entire repose. Happily he reached the last plate of his great work. When half of it was drawn his powers began to fail him, and he became sadly depressed. The finishing tasks were postponed from day to day, then resumed for a few hours, to be again deferred, until 8 March 1877, when death closed for ever the labours of a well-spent life.

Bowerbank was always a most indefatigable collector, and in 1864 his collection had arrived at a state which truly merited the name of magnificent. It was purchased by the British Museum, and forms a well-known and most important division of the natural history section of this national establishment. The catalogue of scientific papers published by the Royal Society credits Bowerbank with forty-five papers. These appeared in the 'Journal of the Microscopic Society,' 'The Annals and Magazine of Natural History,' the 'Journal of the Geological Society,' the 'Reports of the British Association,' and the publications of the Zoological and Linnean Societies. 'The Pterodactyles of the Chalk,' published in the 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society,' was one of Bowerbank's most important memoirs. He paid great attention to the question of silicification, and some admirable papers on this interesting subject are scattered through the journals named. His 'Contributions to a General History of the Spongidæ,' which is in the 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society,' deserves especial attention. Bowerbank's first published paper was 'Observations on the Circulation of the Blood in Insects,' which appeared in 1833. His last was a 'Report on a Collection of Sponges found at Ceylon by E. W. H. Holdsworth,' printed in 1873.

[Geological Magazine; Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society; Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers; Proceedings of the Zoological Society; Palæontological Journal.]

R. H-t.